Ah, take one last look at your blooming garden, because Mother Nature's first kiss of frost will soon bring most flowers to an end. If you'd like to continue enjoying the luscious blooms of summer, preserve them by drying.
Cut flowers in the morning after the dew has dried, using sharp scissors or floral snips to cut the stems. Choose flowers that have just unfurled their petals, taking care that each bloom is perfect — no blemishes, bruises, bites, or disease. Place the flower stems in a bucket, but don't add water.
Air drying is the easiest and most common way to dry flowers. Simply bundle stems together with a rubber band and hang them upside down in a cool, dry location with good circulation out of direct sunlight. Most flowers will dry in two to three weeks. Air drying works well for many flowers, including baby's breath, roses (although buds will close), hydrangeas, bells of Ireland, yarrow, anise hyssop, larkspur, globe amaranth, statice, and many herbs.
Some flowers, especially those with lots of moisture in the petals, dry better when placed in a substance that draws water out of the tissues. This technique is a bit more time consuming than air drying, but it is better at maintaining the flowers' natural shape. It works especially well for flowers with thin, delicate petals, such as lobelia, heather, campanula, and many herbs. Two popular desiccants are silica sand and silica gel.
Silica sand is a very fine white sand that's sold in craft stores; a less expensive alternative is builder's sand, available in 50lb bags at hardware stores.
Silica gel really isn't a gel, but rather a porous crystalline substance that absorbs moisture. It dries flowers quickly; however, it is much more expensive than sand. You can find silica gel at most floral and craft stores.
Start by spreading a layer of the desiccating agent in a bucket or deep tray. Look at the shape of the flowers to determine how to arrange them for drying. Sturdy flowers with long stems, such as lavender, can be placed flat on the surface. For large, flat blooms like sunflowers, cut the stem to a half inch and place this in the sand or gel so the flower is facing up.
Next, slowly and gently spoon or sprinkle more sand or gel over the flowers, allowing the material to filter in between the petals. Continue until the flowers are completely covered. Most flowers will take about four weeks to dry thoroughly using silica sand. Flowers in silica gel dry faster, often within a week. Some silica gels can be gently heated to speed drying. Follow label directions carefully so you don't burn the blooms. Both silica sand and silica gel can be reused many times.
Once the flowers are dry, carefully remove them from the drying agent and gently brush off remaining material with a fine artist's paintbrush. Use florist's wire to create stems if necessary. It takes a bit of practice to determine what technique works best for different flowers so harvest extra so you can experiment. Use your dried flowers in bouquets, as wreath decorations, to create frameable art, and to craft holiday centerpieces.